I finish this week jostling for position at Heathrow amidst some high octane teensters who seem very animated about the imminent arrival of a Korean boyband. Every time the automatic doors of Arrivals slide open, a wave of selfie sticks levitate above an impatient female throng. Knowing no Korean boy bands, I am there to meet Favourite Daughter; the Arrivals board says she has landed but there is no visible evidence of our beach blonde gorgeous girl returning from her five month sojourn. I feel like I’ve landed on the set of ‘Love Actually’ and reflect how wonderful it must be to be met at the end of a particularly long and tiring journey.
The only long journeys I’ve been taking recently are those up and down the motorway to visit mum in hospital. No passport control on arrival, just some very hungry parking meters and a woeful lack of passenger updates and inflight entertainment.
In fact, I’d been with mum all afternoon en route to Heathrow, and, while the visit had started in a promising fashion with mum sitting up in bed – fully dressed and acknowledging that she’d been outside in a wheelchair the day before to the hospital cafe where she had eaten not one, but two, ‘very naughty’ chocolate eclairs – it ended with a wave of heart contractions (both mum’s and mine) as they wire her up for an ECG and try to encourage collapsed veins to offer up blood to be taken for analysis.
I should add that as mum has clocked up so many frequent flyer air miles with the NHS recently, she has been upgraded to Business Class and now has a side room on the Cardiology ward. This means she has shaken off her vocal roomies and a particularly bizarre choice of 24/7 piped music (we’re talking Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry on a ward with a mean age of 90), there is a feel of God’s waiting room about this new set up and no-one appears able – or willing – to update the Departures board. As we’ve established, normally I like people watching, but not on this viewing gallery; I don’t need an ECG to tell me that my own heart is contracting at an alarming rate in sympathy with mum’s at each new take off and landing. Mum waits for each wave of turbulence to subside and grimaces a terrified smile for the nurse as each cycle subsides. I feign a weak smile of my own to mum but she seems unimpressed with my acting and clearly sees my stage fright. If I’m to keep my Equity card, she requires an update on when she’ll be allowed home. I find myself wanting to pull down my own oxygen mask and to adopt the brace position.
I sense mum is looking for some deeper answers about who will be meeting her on arrival. We’ve discussed this at length previously and before I leave her bedside I make sure that she is holding her little wooden cross. I remind her that she is safe, but she’s become a fearful flyer and I long for her to travel peacefully. I know it’s unlikely to be a happy ending, but I do want her to end well when she feels the time is right.
The afternoon has disappeared for me, and with some nifty scene shifting, I race around the M25 – concerned to leave mum and equally concerned that I will not be at the Arrivals gate to meet FD. My heart is racing and I’m early. I use the time to go back over the lines I’ve used with mum that afternoon, hoping that I’ll sound more credible next time I see her. She’ll audition my siblings with the same lines, I know, and I pray that one of us can deliver them authentically.
I distract myself by settling back down into the theatre of people-watching I like so much, soaking up the mounting wave of hysteria for the Korean Crooners, and the yelps of delight and tearful reunions going on around me. We wait patiently for FD to be reunited with her rucksack before being allowed a reunion with us. I say us, but Favourite Brother, is in fact working up a sweat in the wings at Hammersmith tube station lamenting the absence of trains and wondering how he is going to explain his own absence to his sister at the Arrivals gate.
No cliff hanger here though. Cut to final scene: Mama J stands impatiently by the Arrivals sign. FS runs in with minutes to spare before the curtains pull back. Sod the Korean boy band, what this audience wants is the huge smile and hug of our blonde and beautiful leading lady. She’s here, she’s running, and a huge smile and hug is just what we’ll get. It feels like she’s been to the moon and back. Our hearts contract again, and it’s definitely love actually.